Decently executed trashy light novel adaptations is a genre I feel the anime industry has unjustly overlooked. Sure, there’s not much money to be made there if the sales of Absolute Duo [8-Bit, 2015] are to be judged and sure, there doesn’t really seem to be much of an audience or much appreciation for the genre, but someone still needs to give credit where credit is due. And director Atsushi Nakayama (in his first full directorial outing) and series composer Takamitsu Kouno deserve a lot of credit for making Absolute Duo a much better show than it had the right to be. As an almost consistently entertaining production, Absolute Duo gets a 4/10 (Ongoing Rankings).
By all rights, I should never have even picked up Absolute Duo, leaving it languishing along with the season’s other harem anime in the realm of obscurity. But thanks to Yui Horie’s name getting attached the project as gothic loli chairwoman Blaze Diabolica, I decided to give it a shot. It was more, I thought, than the show really deserved, but I was actually charmed by the show’s exceedingly generic first episode, a bit of harpsichord in the soundtrack (oddly enough, the last time I remember hearing harpsichord in an anime was with another Yui Horie project, Golden Time), and an offbeat classroom scene.
But, even beyond that, Absolute Duo impressed me early on with its startlingly effective balance between typical light novel BS, intensely chunnibyou tendencies, and sensitive character writing. One of most immediately apparent differences between Absolute Duo and other shows of its ilk is the near absence of internal monologue from the protagonist, Thor Kokonoe. While Thor certainly has a bit more personality than your run-of-the-mill harem lead, he’s still pretty much a one-note, one-track character, with his refrain of choice being, “I want to protect.” Given how offers he utters exactly that in his dialogue, having that same line constantly running in interior monologue would have been genuinely excruciating (and, from what I’ve heard from readers of the novels, that’s exactly what happens in the source material).
But good shows are made up of good creative choices—I’m always interested in how easily the old acting compliment, “I liked your choices,” can be applied to other creative endeavors—and Absolute Duo‘s adaptation staff made a great one in cutting out Thor’s internal thoughts and letting the majority of his character be communicated through his dialogue and actions (the same goes from most of the other character, too). In all honesty, he’s really not that interesting of a character, but when he’s not in hero-mode at the plot’s whims, he is capable of demonstrating a little bit of texture as a character.
In fact, until the accelerated pace of the final arc forces all the characters (not just Thor) into mere plot roles, Thor actually has a number of decent moments that extend naturally from his base motivation of “I want to protect.” The majority of these come through his interactions with Julie, who he takes to be his Duo in the second episode. The use of language with marital connotations was intentional on my part; the vows that the students of Kouryou Academy take when forming their (ostensibly) temporary partnerships are explicitly evocative of marriage vows. This introduces a fairly common anime trope—magical student partners—but re-contextualizes it into a de-romanticized version of marriage. Perhaps even more unique is the way Absolute Duo follows through on that conceptualization of the Duo throughout the show.
The oddly matter-of-fact way that both Julie and Thor treat their commitment to each other is best on display during episode 9’s climactic battle at the end of the school trip arc, but is really present throughout the show (although less gracefully in the final arc). Both of them repeatedly profess a desire to protect and support the other, neither of them failing to live out that promise when the time comes. And Absolute Duo doesn’t really make a big deal of it. It’s just the way things are. Which is, really, a pretty cool thing to see.
As mentioned earlier, Absolute Duo does indeed have its fair share of chunnibyou and light novel BS. The anime is intensely, unavoidably tropey, but the usual strength of execution helps it from feeling clichéd or tired. There’s a decent sense of energy and excitement to Absolute Duo, something that comes through in the way it embraces its more ridiculous elements like a cosplaying rabbit teacher, hilariously chunni names (Silent Diva, Darkray Disaster, to name a few), or a boat deck that splits in the middle to toss students into the seas and its usually good sense of humor. Somehow, Absolute Duo manages to switch between “oh wow that was stupid” laughs and “oh that was actually funny” laughs in a way that makes the show endearing rather than frustrating, although some of that perhaps is simply my own affection for the show talking.
There’s also the element of a great lead-in/exit each and every week. Overall, besides the aforementioned harpsichord track, Absolute Duo‘s production isn’t anything beyond serviceable, aside from two important exceptions: the OP and 3 EDs. Storyboarded by the extremely talented Ryouma Ebata, the OP is brilliantly animated with a cool song that avoids tripping into overly intense. The three EDs (no, that’s not a mistake—believe me, it’s a mystery) are all very good songs and all look great. I dunno know why or how it happened, but it’s there and I love it.
In terms of annoyances, the fanservice (when it occurs, which is thankfully rare) is crass and the final arc really isn’t very good. Absolute Duo just doesn’t have the production strength to pull off an arc consisting of mostly action and the number of plot events hamper the elements of the show that made it likable in the first place. None of those problems are debilitating for the show as a whole, but they’re still there.
I can’t really say I’d recommend Absolute Duo. Despite the solid execution and the sparks of inspiration here and there, it’s still a story type you’ve seen time and time again. If you want to watch it, it certainly has enough merits to make it more than a waste of time, but this is a tale that’s been done better elsewhere.
Reasons to Watch:
- Thor and Julie’s relationship is surprisingly healthy given the genre.
- When the show tries to do comedy, it’s usually successful.
- Great OP and three fantastic ED sequences.
- Yui Horie totally embracing her role as a goth loli sensei is…well, it’s pretty darn great.